Is the ColorRun hazardous to your health? That is the question I set out to answer, yet unfortunately, like most things in occupational hygiene, getting the answer wasn’t that simple!
I’ve provided details on the methodology I used to collect the samples previously (and what it looked like during the run), but I need to explain the limitations in the data I collected. It’s important to know the limitations of any study before you accept the conclusion…so going against the way that popular media typically reports scientific studies and I’m going to give you some of those limitations first:
- Firstly, only five valid samples made it out of the run. This isn’t too bad, but I had hoped for at least 6 samples so I had greater confidence in the data. As it stands now, I have highly variable results and a relatively small data set…not what I really want. But like my 7-year old says, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset!”.
- Then there was the case where some of us suffered a direct hit from a colour throw (when the Color Run volunteers threw the dust right in our face for example…which happened twice). This resulted in small chunks of dust being left on top of the sample filter. They would not be representative of what you would breathe in (you might swallow them perhaps…but not inhale). However those “chunks” of dust dried up and actually rolled off the filter, so they weren’t analysed. The NATA-accredited lab even reported that the samples, “contained large amounts of loose particulate matter that was not all able to be weighed with the filter. Results may be biased low”. So if anything, these results are lower than they probably are…not the other way around.
- We only sampled for 2.5 hours on average, and the exposure standard is based on an average over an 8-hour workday. For direct comparison purposes, I have assumed that the remaining 5.5-hours or so were spent in a dust-free environment, but I didn’t measure it. So again, these results are biased low (so they are conservative).
- We are not workers and so the “exposure standard” legally doesn’t apply to us as such. But it does apply to the volunteer workers throwing the colour around and standing in a haze of dust for 2.5-hours. If our results appear shocking to you, just imagine the dose that they are getting and the impact to their health.
So let’s get down to the good stuff…the sample results. I’ve listed them in the table below in relation to the exposure standard. Remember that exposure standards represent airborne concentrations, which according to current knowledge should not cause adverse health effects nor cause undue discomfort to nearly all people. They do not represent “no-effect” levels that guarantee protection for everyone because of the variability in susceptibility between individuals. Therefore there may be a small proportion of people who may suffer mild or transitory discomfort at concentrations around, or below, the exposure standard. An even smaller number may exhibit symptoms of illness. Exposure standards determine whether a potential exists for over exposure, and associated ill health effects.
Three out of five samples exceeded the exposure standard, so I wasn’t off to a good start.…but to answer my question, “is it hazardous to your health”? I wanted to use statistics. There is uncertainty in all data, yet I wanted to see 95% of the data be below the exposure standard. I won’t bore you with the statistics, but the 95th percentile was well over the exposure standard. This was due to both the high sample results and also the high degree of variability in the data set.
|Runner||Result (calculated over 8-hours, assumed no exposure for remaining time after the ColorRun)||Exposure Standard|
|Kel (ran with 2 x four year old boys)||29.0 mg/m3||4 mg/m3|
|Kym (ran with 1 x three year old son)||1.1 mg/m3||4 mg/m3|
|Mel (ran solo)||22.5 mg/m3||4 mg/m3|
|Kristy (ran solo)||84.2 mg/m3||4 mg/m3|
|Me (ran with a 7 year old daughter)||0.8 mg/m3||4 mg/m3|
So what does it all mean? These results demonstrated that participating in the Newcastle ColorRun was hazardous to our health.
Some of us as you can see fared better than others. We all ran the same course in roughly the same amount of time. The amount of flour dust we inhaled though was more due to luck (or lack of) more than anything else. It’s almost impossible to not get covered in dust if you run through a colour station or go to the colour throw at the end.
Like any good occupational hygienist I need to provide you with a list of recommendations based on the data collected. So here are some of my recommendations for future participants of the Color Run:
Seriously consider your need to participate in this event. If you suffer from allergies, or allergy-type symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or if you suffer from asthma, or if you are considering taking babies or small children, then this is especially important.
If you do participate, then take caution when going through the colour throws at each kilometer, which includes skipping them entirely (run around them up wind), or wear respiratory protection. I also recommend skipping the final colour throw at the end and the optional trip to the “Cleaning Zone”.
It’s a pity that this event is targeted at families and for kids to #runwithmum and yet the health risks associated with participating in this event are understated. I have no problem with risky activities…I just think that people should be provided with all the information so they can weigh up the risks and make an informed decision for themselves. I would recommend that the organisers of the ColorRun provide the Safety Data Sheet for the “color” on their website and to engage a competent person to provide an updated commentary for the public on its meaning. It is not fair for parents to have to individually contact the organisers, only to be told that “breathing small amount of this material is not likely to be harmful“. You should be told the health effects of the colour, the concentrations at which you may experience those health effects, and things you can do to reduce your exposure. Most importantly you should be made aware that some people are more susceptible to developing illness related to exposure. That would be more useful than telling me it’s “gluten free“.
Spare a thought also for the volunteers who were not provided with respiratory protection and stayed within those colour stations (dust clouds) for over 2-hours. If you think our results were high, then their exposures would be far greater. Of course this is only a guess as I didn’t measure them (but it’s based on an educated observation!). I’d suggest there is a significant risk of exposure to flour dust in excess of the Workplace Exposure Standard and controls are needed to reduce that exposure. I recommend that one of those controls should be to perform a personal exposure assessment for volunteer workers.
There were a lot of people running with tiny babies and small children (including us). It’s not worth it, seriously. It’s hard for me to say this as my daughter LOVES it, but sometimes it’s just not worth the risk. We’ll just find another mum-daughter bonding activity…one that isn’t hazardous to our health.
Still not convinced? Well it’s a big call to say all of this on just 5 samples, so I’m lucky that I’m not the only Occupational Hygienist out there with a bunch of sampling pumps. The more samples we can collect to add to the data set will provide more certainty and confidence in these results. I will update these results and recommendations with additional validated data as it comes in…so stay tuned!